Early on a muggy July morning, a few hours after Toronto’s largest mass shooting, police turned up in force at a house eight kilometres away, in the working-class neighbourhood of Malvern.
Ostensibly, they were there for a different incident; within days, one of the home’s residents, Shaquan (Bam Bam) Mesquito, was arrested for uttering threats and found with a loaded .22-calibre handgun.
But over the next 14 weeks, in an investigation that included telephone surveillance, officers say they linked the 18-year-old to the gangland gun battle at a Danzig Street block party that left two innocent bystanders dead and 24 people injured.
The police presence at Mr. Mesquito’s home in the early hours of July 17 came as little surprise to residents of his street. Many nights, after the bars closed, people would flock to the white brick duplex for raucous drinking sessions, they said.
Mr. Mesquito, who has been behind bars since his arrest, was charged with a total of 27 offences Thursday, including two counts of first-degree murder, which implies the killings were planned ahead of time.
“The person came to the event with the sole purpose of discharging a firearm,” said Staff Inspector Greg McLane of the homicide squad.
Neighbour Anwar Dawud, 19, said he didn’t really know Mr. Mesquito, but saw him coming and going, and playing basketball with the many children often seen running around the place. “There were a lot of people living in that house,” he said.
On the night of the Danzig shootings, Mr. Dawud arrived home around 3 a.m. to find police had cordoned off the street.
“They were not good neighbours – they had huge parties,” said Hussain Hafiz, 48, who lives two doors down. One time, he saw a man pull up with a van full of beers. On another, he said, party-goers urinated in his yard.
Tristan Plummer, who went to school with Mr. Mesquito, said the man lived with his mother and younger siblings. He said that, over the years, Mr. Mesquito started hanging out with older kids and the “wrong crowd.”
The family moved out shortly after the shooting. On Thursday, the house and street, a suburban cul-de-sac, were mostly quiet. At one point, three giggling young men walked by shouting, “Bam Bam!”
Police contend Mr. Mesquito was affiliated with the Malvern Crew, a long-running Scarborough street gang. The shootout is believed to have started after the rival Galloway Boys hijacked the Danzig celebration and a Malvern Crew associate showed up. Told to leave, he returned with gun-toting reinforcements, police said. Killed in the crossfire were 14-year-old Shyanne Charles, an accomplished student and athlete, and Joshua Yasay, 23, a basketball-loving Ajax resident and aspiring police officer. Twenty-four others, including a toddler, were injured.
Mr. Mesquito was hit with weapon and threatening charges eight days later.
Alleged Galloway member Nahom Tsegazab, 19, was charged with recklessly discharging a firearm on Danzig. Police now say Mr. Mesquito tried to kill him during the block party gunfight.
There was no single piece of evidence that led to Mr. Mesquito being charged in the shootout – nor was there any help from the suspect himself. Rather, investigators used a wealth of techniques, including long conversations with informants and scrutiny of the 20-plus shell casings found at the crime scene. Officers from five divisions, the financial crimes unit, the drug squad, the gun and gang task force, the intelligence unit and forensic-identification specialists were involved.
“We made it clear from the outset that we would spare no expense and we haven’t,” a police source said. “We used the full range of our resources to tackle this case.”
Staff Insp. McLane voiced confidence that further murder charges would be laid against other people – viewed as guilty parties to the two deaths. Police released composites of two key “persons of interest,” but said it’s not clear who they are.
As well, police are probing a link to a shooting six weeks later, in which a 17-year-old boy wounded at the barbecue was shot a second time.
A former co-worker of Mr. Yasay expressed satisfaction at the murder charges. “I feel a sense of relief, for sure, knowing that the suspect, if they’re guilty, is off the streets,” Samantha Power said.
But justice, she said, includes rehabilitation. “That’s what Josh wanted, for these people not to turn to violence.”
Meanwhile, on Danzig Street, residents greeted news of the arrest with relief. Crystal Bartley, pushing a baby carriage, said the area has been quiet since, but she still hesitates to let her three children play there.
Another woman said locals were overcoming their fear of gangs to openly discuss what had happened.
“It brings the community a little bit closer,” she said, sweeping leaves from the pad in front of her house. “It was wrong, what happened, and hopefully someone did come forward and told.”
With reports from Oliver Moore and Stephanie ChambersReport Typo/Error